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Kansas No. 4 in volunteering, report says

Gerry Sibely, 77, is a regular volunteer at the Kansas Food Bank. (December 19, 2014)
Gerry Sibely, 77, is a regular volunteer at the Kansas Food Bank. (December 19, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Kansas should write a quick letter to Santa. We have been very, very good.

We are the fourth-leading state in America when it comes to volunteering, according to the Volunteering and Civic Life in America report released last week by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service.

More than 36 percent of Kansas residents volunteered in 2013, according to the report. Utah ranked No. 1 with 45.3 percent, followed by Idaho and Minnesota. Wisconsin rounded out the top five.

A total of 789,100 volunteers in Kansas gave 82.2 million hours of service worth an estimated $1.72 billion in 2013, the report said.

Nearly 67 percent of our residents participated in “informal volunteering,” which, the report said, includes activities like helping sick neighbors shop for groceries or watching each other’s children.

In Wichita, nearly one-third of metro area residents volunteered 13.8 million hours, and nearly 58 percent participated in informal volunteering

That’s because we have people like Gerry Sibley, 77, a retired businessman who volunteers at the Kansas Food Bank three days a week, and also for Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army. He’s also been helping with efforts to restore “Doc,” the B-29.

At the food bank, Sibley prepares backpacks with weekend meals for needy children as part of the organization’s Food-4-Kids program.

“It’s just a common interest in trying to be part of something a little bigger than you are and trying to contribute in some way,” he said. “The food for kids is pretty immediate. You can see an impact.”

Sibley works at the food bank with many other volunteers of all ages, he said. According to the report, the largest numbers of volunteers in Kansas – 26 percent of the total – contribute to food collection and distribution efforts.

“I get a gratification out of this that’s hard to get anywhere else,” Sibley said. “There’s nothing I consider a sacrifice here at all. Sometimes I think I need these people more than they need me.”

The report found that fundraising, at 23.3 percent, and providing general labor, at 22.9 percent, were the next most common forms of volunteering by people who live in Kansas.

Lila and Jim Cunningham, of Mulvane, volunteer their labor to the American Red Cross Midway-Kansas Chapter. They respond to fires, providing victims help with lodging, clothing and food. They do this five to seven days a month all over southern Kansas, working 24-hour shifts.

Jim, who is 71, also drives elderly people to dialysis treatments and doctor appointments for the Red Cross, while Lila, a retired nurse who is 70, works in the Red Cross office every Friday as a case worker.

Both have signed up to work on Christmas Day.

“I’m amazed at the fires on Christmas Day, and the children who are left with nothing,” Lila Cunningham said. “We’ve not had tragedies, so we’re giving to those who do. We just felt that was what we were meant to do.”

They felt compelled to volunteer while watching TV coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as it rampaged along the Gulf Coast. Lila Cunningham called the Red Cross to give money, then asked if she could do more.

The next morning at 8, the Red Cross called her back to say it was starting classes and getting people ready to go to the Gulf.

She and her husband spent three weeks on Canal Street in New Orleans handing out shovels, brooms, mops, bottled water and other items to help with the cleanup.

Since then, they’ve been to Greensburg and Joplin to help with tornado recovery.

“I can’t describe it. It’s just a response of helping people in need,” Lila Cunningham said. “We’ve been fortunate. We both have values of kindness and helping those in need.”

When they go to a fire, victims are in shock, she said. Sometimes they’ve lost everything but their lives.

“Many times, they’ll say, ‘Well, we’re alive.’ That tells me a lot about the people here in the Midwest,” she said.

The spirit of volunteerism often strikes spontaneously at disaster scenes around the state. Lila Cunningham remembered that before outside help arrived in Greensburg after the 2007 tornado leveled the town at night, locals who didn’t suffer damage from the storm were out helping those who did.

“I think this is just a fact of who we are,” she said.

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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